A change lab is a social innovation process. It is an open space, hub or platform where stakeholders work together to seize upon new developments and innovations that address the complex challenges they are trying to solve in a lasting and equitable way. Beyond technology, these innovations can take the shape of public policy, new business models, (re)framing cultural values and ultimately, behaviour change.
Hivos experiments with lab-like approaches to change. For example, with Ushadidi and Afrilabs we pioneered support to emerging tech hubs. These now present a thriving innovation scene and form the backbone for innovation in East Africa. In the Middle East, by means of our Mideast Creatives programme, we support incubators and creative spaces for new discussions, impulses and ventures in the region among young (social) entrepreneurs.
Some basic premises about labs are:
- The issues tackled are complex systemic problems
- Everyone involved is an expert, especially the end-users
- Context analyses are realistic (what can we work with)
- A multi-disciplinary team works collaboratively
- Concrete action will be taken to try out innovative approaches
- The group thrives on the input and impuses from its members
Living Wage, Food and Energy Change Labs
In 2014, Hivos and the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) entered into a partnership to develop, test, design and establish two change labs that bring together various stakeholders around issues of food and energy. Currently, three Food Change Labs are being implemented in cities in Uganda, Zambia and Indonesia. All three address the future of food security and environmental health in the city and its rural hinterland. Despite different contexts, the cities all have populations that are expected to grow rapidly in the next 25 years.
Food Change Labs
Our Food Change Labs provide space to catalyse positive disruptions to food challenges in a way that puts citizens front and centre. In our Food Change Lab in Fort Portal, Uganda, we try to actively engage informal street vendors. Unorganized, dispersed and controversial, this group is hard to reach, yet they hold fundamental pieces of the puzzle of how a fast growing African city eats. The social innovation in this case is nothing magical other than enabling a seat at the table of the urban planners shaping the future of their city. The Lab members build on their extensive knowledge of local agriculture and citizens’ participation.
Energy Change Lab
The Energy Change Lab is a multi-stakeholder space where experts and practitioners come together to develop solutions for an inclusive and sustainable energy transition in Tanzania. The energy landscape in Tanzania is undergoing major changes, spurred by policy and institutional reform processes, the expansion of the grid, the growth of green and decentralised sources of supply, and major gas finds. The Lab asks how this transition can deliver tangible benefits for the majority of Tanzanians in the form of better and reliable energy services, new employment and enterprise opportunities, sound investment of gas revenues for the public good, and protection of vital natural resources. How can it avoid reinforcing existing inequalities and misappropriation by local elites?
In Tanzania, the labs aim is to create jobs by the developing of business opportunities, and to improve energy access and security for all Tanzanians. At a global level, it will link to other initiatives and aims to inspire innovators as well as international policy forums. A first global research paper has been launched, outlining a vision on the role of citizens in future energy systems.
Living Wage Lab
Hivos and Fairfood launched the Living Wage Lab in November 2015. We believe that the supply chain as a whole has a shared responsibility in ensuring that workers are paid a living wage, while each separate stakeholder also has an individual responsibility to attain this goal.
The Living Wage Lab is a platform for co-creation and experimentation: just like in a laboratory we test ideas and combinations to develop new ideas and prototypes to address the living wage issue. A wide array of stakeholders participate in the Lab; producers, retailers, government, trade unions, NGOs, certification bodies and research institutes.